Rory McIlroy - No 1 in Europe, the US and the world rankings - wants to win the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai to make the final event of his greatest season more than just an empty, triumphal procession on the Earth Course at Jumeirah Golf Estates.
So what can we expect from the 23-year old in 2013? After all, this week’s season-ending event is the last time we’ll see him playing a bag full of Titleist clubs. But he shot down suggestions by Nick Faldo recently that it’s a dangerous move that could damage his confidence:
No, not at all. I think all the manufacturers make great equipment nowadays and it’s all very similar - a lot of them get their clubs made at the same factories. I don’t think it will make any difference…I’ve started the process of trying a few new things. I’m still playing with my Titleist clubs - this is the last week - but I’ve tinkered about a little bit with the new ones, enough to feel comfortable going into next season.
McIlroy still believes he can improve and while he’s achieved the goals most players dream about, the Career Grand Slam is now on his radar screen. He doesn’t want to get into the prediction game about how many majors he might win, or whether he could possibly challenge Jack Nicklaus’ haul of 18. But he does admit that he’d like to have all four trophies on his mantelpiece soon with the Masters and The Open still missing from his collection.
I’ve always said I’m never going to put a number on it. I don’t want to do that, I just want to get my third. When I get my third then I want to try and get my fourth. A career grand slam is probably the next obvious goal.
On a potential play-off system in Europe and his hopes for the final event of the season given that he’s already wrapped up the Race to Dubai title, he doesn’t believe the Race to Dubai format needs to be changed, despite misgivings from Luke Donald.
No. (Laughter). Not really. I felt‑‑ I mean, I played well during the FedExCup Playoffs this year on the PGA TOUR and felt a little hard done by, playing so well and not being able to win that. I think the format is good. You know, it’s a season‑long race. That’s the way it is. Lucky for me I’ve earned enough money to not make it matter in the last tournament. I guess it is a bit of an anti‑climax this week, but as I said I would love to pick up both of those trophies on Sunday.
Looking at the statistics, McIlroy knows he can improve in every department for 2013, which is a scary prospect for the opposition.
I think you can always improve as a golfer, whether it’s add a little bit of variety to your short game. I feel this year what I’ve done very well is hit the ball left‑to‑right, which I have not done in the past, and it’s enabled me to get to a lot more right‑hand pin positions which is obviously going to set up more birdie chances for me. So I think that’s something I’ve really improved on this year. I guess over the seven or eight weeks that I’ll have off before the new season, I can just look at my game and look at the stats and see what I can improve on and go and work on.
Naturally, improving will mean being better prepared for the majors, which will mean cutting back his schedule to around 21 or 22 events and being more careful not to burn himself out in end of season events once the majors and the PGA Tour play-offs have concluded.
I think I’ve played 25 or 26 tournament this is year. I think what takes it out of you most is being in contention, feeling the pressure and adrenaline on Sundays and having to get yourself back up for the next week sometimes. I think that takes more out of you than going and finishing 30th or 40th every week. So I feel like scheduling is going to be a big thing for me going forward. Maybe not play quite as many tournaments. Feel fresh and feel ready for every time I tee up. I think if I do feel that way, every tournament that I enter, I have a better chance to win.
One exhibition he didn’t mind playing was the Ryder Cup, where he gets to see the metamorphosis of Ian Poulter up close and personal. Signs perhaps that Poulter could become a major contender perhaps?
It’s like the Hulk; he turns into this big, green putting machine. It’s incredible.
The thing about The Ryder Cup for Ian is he obviously thrives on it. He thrives on the pressure. He thrives being a leader of the team. It’s just his character. And he’s obviously went on to play great after The Ryder Cup. Obviously winning in China there, and playing well in Australia last week. You know, The Ryder Cup this year for Ian could be a huge springboard for bigger and better things to come.
On the whether or not it is a concern for the European Tour given that so many top Europeans now play on the PGA Tour (10 of the 12 Ryder Cup winners will play in the US next year with Martin Kaymer the latest to join McIlroy, Westwood, Donald, Poulter et al), McIlroy looked over the head of the Tour’s chief executive George O’Grady, who was sitting in the front row, and said that all was hunky dory. So what if he won the Race to Dubai without setting foot on continental Europe, or that there were more counting official events in the United States than in any other country. It’s a global game. Or as O’Grady put it later: “A competitive marketplace.”
I don’t think so. I think with the way golf has gone, you can be a global player and you can play all over the world. I don’t think anyone is going to neglect The European Tour. It’s the Tour that we‑‑ The European Tour gave me a lot of opportunities coming through, and it’s something that I’ll never forget and something that I’ll always hold onto. I’m always going to be a European Tour Member.
There’s opportunities to play over in the States, and it’s hard for guys to pass them up. Three of the four majors are in the U.S., and there’s three World Golf Championships in the U.S. that are all obviously co‑sanctioned with The European Tour. I feel like if you can go over there and play a little bit, it makes sense.